Issue: March 1, 2008


LONDON – Late last year, The Mill ( created a :90 spot for Guinness that emphasized the motto, “Good things come to those who wait.” The spot takes place in an Argentine village, where residents have come together to witness and support an extraordinary event.

A dominoes set up is triggered to set off an elaborate display throughout the village’s winding streets that includes books, paint, furniture, appliances and even cars. The commercial’s high point is its finale, where a two-story tall stack of textbooks flaps its pages, starting from the ground and working their way up. From afar, the viewer sees that the books are stacked much like a pint glass and the pages resemble the rising foam of a freshly poured Guinness.

Using a FilmLight Baselight system, colorist Paul Harrison graded Tipping Point, out of AMV BBDO, which was shot with five cameras over the course of six very long days. The challenge was to make it appear as if the spot had been shot in realtime, so Harrison pushed Baselight to the max, breathing life into marginal shots, accommodating visual effects updates and facilitating the delivery of versions for cinema and international television distribution.

The Mill’s visual effects team applied its artistic touch to nearly every scene, compositing in extra villagers and animals, applying graffiti and texture to walls, and blending in dust and other atmospheric effects to enhance the richness and cinematic quality of the imagery. The giant pint of Guinness is a wholly-digital creation conjured up by the facility’s 3D team using Side Effects’ Houdini software.

Color grading helped set the commercial’s moody atmosphere and odd sense of realism. The imagery has a slightly washed out, golden cast and is roughly textured as if it were a decades old documentary retrieved from a dusty film vault.

Once the spot was edited, The Mill scanned the select 35mm negative elements to 2K data for grading on Baselight. “We wanted to give it a distinctive look and make it look photographic,” recalls Harrison. “I especially liked the craggy old faces and tried to get as much texture out of them as possible.”

He completed the grade under the supervision of BBDO’s creative team and MJZ director Nicolai Fuglsig. Cinematographer Ellen Kuras sat in via a live feed from The Mill’s New York office.

Before Harrison could finalize the look, he had to establish consistency among source material captured with different cameras, stocks, in different locations and at different times, under varying lighting conditions. One scene, showing a collapsing pyramid of mattresses, had been shot at the end of a production day.

“The light was pretty much gone,” he recalls. “It was almost like doing a night-for-day shot.”

In resurrecting the shot, Harrison was aided by a feature of Baselight that enabled him to define multiple, complex mattes within a single frame and apply individual color treatments to each simultaneously.

“I was able to draw mattes of certain areas and then soft matte them together,” he explains. “I could take down the side of a building, without affecting the front, and give the mattresses a different treatment. I achieved a good balance and it was all done in one go.”

As many as 16 layers were used for some of those shots. “It was a bit of a jigsaw and amazing to compare how it started out with how it ended up. It would have been a struggle to do it with a traditional telecine. Baselight was the only way.”

Even as Harrison was working on the grade, visual effects production was ongoing elsewhere in the facility. As a result, shots were being constantly updated. “I was grading from the same data as the Flame guys and there was a lot of chopping and changing. If new effects were added to a scene that I had already graded, we would simply put it on Baselight and check to make sure it was all working nicely and tweak things that needed tweaking. Baselight was great for that.”

The Baselight system also made the process of preparing deliverables more efficient. After Harrison finished grading the :90 cinema version, his work was essentially done, as elements from it could be repurposed for other versions without reprocessing or re-grading. Only shots that did not appear in the original version required grading.

The Mill has been using the Baselight system for two years and the studio’s input has played a crucial role in the on-going development of the tool, in particular in improving its usefulness as a platform for grading commercials.